Christian Themes Big at the Box Office

This week’s USA Weekend Magazine includes a cover article highlighting how Christian-themed films are taking many approaches—and big box office receipts. They correctly note that these are not “Christian films” such as Facing the Giants which was made by Christians with an overtly Christian message, but rather Hollywood-made films that “reveal broken people, lost in pain—anger, loneliness, addition, poverty or staggering sadness-whose lives are rebuilt by small acts of love and kindness, what Psalm 51:1 calls ‘tender mercies.’” 

Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ ushered in the new age of Christian-themed movies. However, the most influential modern mainstream Christian-themed movie may be The Blind Side. The 2009 film portrays a real family who lived by their Evangelical Christian beliefs. Oscar winner Sandra Bullock played the family’s driving force with an unshakable love for others that she learned from the Bible. 

The Next Blockbuster

Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Weekend suspects that Like Dandelion Dust, which opens in September, may be the next Blind Side. While this wrenching adoption story never once mentions Jesus, millions of readers of Evangelical novelist Karen Kingsbury will recognize the movie as one of her many best sellers. According to producer-brothers Kevin and Bobby Downes, “what makes Dust Christian is its portrayal of sacrificial love. We’re Christians who make movies.” Their goal is to make films that move people with universal themes that create conversations while the credits are still rolling. 

Capturing the big audience, the unchurched of America, requires strong storytelling, but without sacrificing the “Christian worldview we bring to what we do,” says Bobby Downes. “We are trying to do what Jesus did: Meet people where they are.” 

Shallow and Sappy or Profound and Realistic 

In many ways, the Downes brothers, are following the time-tested, even ancient model of redemptive storytelling that captures the imagination more with riveting situations and profound character than with overt calls for conversion. Victor Hugo’sLes Misérables is a prime example. The story of Jean val Jean, the paroled theme whose life is changed by an act of grace, and whose path is stalked by the law, vividly portrays a life lived by grace versus one lived by works. 

Penetrating the depths of the human soul takes much more than shallow stories where everything ends up fine if you simply trust Jesus. Such smacks more of the health and wealth prosperity gospel than of the Gospel of Christ. This is especially true since Jesus Himself guaranteed that in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33). 

Likewise, reaching the mind of the unchurched takes much more than quick parroting of the “Four Spiritual Laws.” And it takes much more than a corny movie, cheaply done, that fails to grapple with real life issues of despair, hopelessness, sin, forgiveness, and redemption. Personally, it takes a depth of relationship that skillfully, wisely, and patient relates truth to life. Cinematically, it takes the portrayal of deep relationships that realistically wrestle with who we are, why things are no longer the way they’re supposed to be, and what brings true and lasting healing. 

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For you, what movies or books most powerfully depict Christian themes without being sappy or shallow?

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